Thursday, November 02, 2006

Demon Under Glass - review

Director: Jon Cunningham

Release Date: 2002

Contains spoilers

This movie is severely lacking in budget, which comes out in film stock quality and low effects budget, and also contains some poor performances particularly from some of the supporting cast but it has a superb story and that goes a long way.

At the beginning we read that there is a murderer on the prowl, dubbed Vlad by the press as he drains his victims. His victims are primarily prostitutes and so the police are involved in a sting operation using Det. Gwen Taylor (Denise Alessandria Hurd) as bait. looking for a feedAfter capturing the wrong man she is approached by a man, we later discover to be Simon Molinar (Jason Carter). Before he leaves his car he checks his fangs in the wing mirror. He kisses her on the way up to her room, very nearly sweeping her off her feet, and then is swooped upon by the police and the feds. He throws his would be captors off, rips the door of its hinges and makes a break for it.

Heavily armed feds, with crosses on their body armour, go after him. The feds are from the Delphi Project, their aim to capture a vampire. Molinar is shot up and is found by the instigator of the Delphi Project, Dr Hirsch (James Kiberd), whom Molinar strangles before being beaten into submission. Hirsch’s second in command, Dr Bassett (Jack Donner), needs to get another medical doctor in and selects Joseph McKay (Garett Maggart). shot up and not wellAt first McKay is sceptical, unsure as to why they want him to treat a man who has been shot several times and is in a steel coffin, banging to get out, but they will not let him operate until the morning.

The reason for the delay is because the room in which Molinar is kept, which is air-locked to prevent escape, has a sun-shield that can be moved away to expose the vampire to the sun. At this point, however, they do not know how much sunlight would damage the vampire but when McKay is finally allowed to operate he not only pulls out bullets but a musket ball that is lodged in Molinar’s back.

Of course we know things are going to go wrong, Bassett becomes obsessed with the vampire (who for his own part proves very co-operative) stretching the grounds of research past anything that can be classed as remotely moral, he even makes the comment himself as to whether he is going down the same road as Josef Mengele – though it doesn’t seem to stop him. McKay is unhappy with the treatment of his patient but then, as he learns more of the serial killer Vlad, becomes less sure of the ground he stands on. Taylor is frustrated by the fact that her suspect has vanished and is on the trail, whilst suffering erotic dreams of Molinar. Molinar, despite co-operating, is a caged predator. There is also a poignant sub-story concerning the father (Leroy Smith) of one of Vlad’s victims.

We learn a little about Molinar the man, he lived in the Pyrenees during the time of Hannibal and was attacked, left for dead and became what he is. Of vampires generally we learn a lot. Crosses and garlic don’t effect them (garlic is experiments with sunlightdiscovered in one of the more farcical scenes with a marine belching in his face). Sunlight, even indirect sunlight, is deadly. They pee blood and for all intents and purposes are dead and yet function. The scientists uncover a virus that they believe is the cause of the vampirism, that would only effect 1 in 1000 people – hence the spread of the condition is limited.

They have reflections and can be filmed and x-rayed. In a pocket in their gums, where nerves should be, they store their fangs which are pushed down by fluid. I could go on as this is one of the real strengths of the film, the attention to detail is marvellous. Indeed the story is so well thought out that the film has inspired a couple of books based in the Demon Under Glass world.

A sated vampireThe story itself exposes the question of who is the real monster, the vampire – who acts to survive – or the scientists. It then blurs these lines again as we wonder, does the vampire simply kill to survive or because he enjoys it. We hear that one of Vlad’s victims was sexually assaulted, beaten, every bone in her body broken and then had her throat slit before draining, which is much less survival and much more the act of a sexual sadist. That said we never truly know if Molinar is Vlad the serial killer or whether he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and the serial killer was someone else. McKay cannot reconcile the man he knows with the killer that is described to him. We also wonder if Molinar co-operates with the scientists because he sincerely wants to help or is it a survival reaction.

The film itself can be a little slow in places and the action finale is a little under-directed, I feel. The direction is much better when it comes to the scenes that show the interaction of characters. Carter as Molinar is fantastic, as is Maggart as McKay. Both come across as believable and Carter makes a fantastic vampire (it is not surprising that Carter was, I believe, considered for the role of Dracula in the 1992 film, before the role went to Gary Oldman). Unfortunately much of the supporting cast is poor.

Vampires make messy dinner guestsThe film is crying out for a remake, with the main two actors and a lot more budget. The film stock quality especially lets down what is a potentially classic vampire film. 6.5 out of 10 reflects how impressed I am with the film generally, and how frustrated I am with the aspects that let it down. I will say, however, that it is a must see for genre fans.

The imdb page is here.

As per the comments, it seems that the print quality of the DVD leaves a lot to be desired. I hope, one day, that a proper print version of this film is released and I will re-review it at that point. In the meantime director Jon Cunningham supplied me with some comparison stills and I publish a few here to show the difference:


thewritersjourney said...

Good review, and in general I agree with you. I believe this could be executed well on the big screen with more competent actors (or supporting cast even, if you want to keep Carter and Maggart). I really enjoyed it much more than I expected to.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks thewritersjourney, I have to admit I am a sucker for Jason Carter in productions ever since seeing him in B5. I do like his performances.

DLWarner said...

I am writing through my wife's account, since she maintains a blog, and I do not.

Thank you for posting your considerate and thoughtful review of my film. I appreciate your comments, both positive and negative, and understand that I must accept the blame with the praise.

However, I must take issue with the film stock question. Assuming the pictures reproduced on your page are frame grabs, I can only say you have a bad print. The company responsible for distributing the film made a number of mistakes, including really screwing with the color correction. (They also used the international print, which means it's missing all the intertitles positioned throughout the film.)

If you send me an email address, I'll send you some of my frame grabs, which shows you what the film actually looks like.

Jon Cunningham
Demon Under Glass

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Jon - I can well accept/believe that the distro company made mistakes and would be happy to see stills (or even a proper print ;) ) of the film.

As I said in review the film stock (or that should be corrected to the print) was one of the letdowns that held this down. All films have issues (it is rare to come across a perfect film) but it is rare to come across a film that has some of the positives you put into this.

My email address is taliesinloki (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk

you may not have noticed but I also reviewed the Demon Under Glass book. Again I have tried to be completely honest. A very good book, strong writing but, unfortunately, some proofing errors.

The Demon Under Glass universe is one I would like to explore more - I have been keeping an eye out for the other two books but they rarely come available on Amazon UK and would dearly love to see you explore that world in film again.

Many thanks for stopping by.

Margaret said...

Finally got a chance to see this rather hard to find film. I have to say I was really impressed! I completely agree with your assessment of it! At first I was skeptical because of the low film quality, and the set-up seemed a bit typical, but it ended up being a very thoughtful character driven film, and I really enjoyed the way it pondered some rather hard questions. The characters seemed really dynamic. A great addition to the genre for sure, and one I will likely be thinking on for a while.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it Margaret - hopefully, like me, you will be waiting for a proper print of the film to appear :)

Quality characetr driven, thoughtful films are rare (generally) and that makes this stand out